During the coronavirus task force briefing, Vice President Mike Pence says that the FDA has approved new coronavirus test with results in 45 minutes.
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As people continue to spread COVID-19 throughout the state, some Shasta County residents showing symptoms of the virus say they are being denied tests from local hospitals.
The reason, according to public health officials and hospital administrators, is a nationwide shortage of tests available to local public health labs like the one in Shasta County.
As a result of the shortage, public health lab tests are being “reserved for the more critical cases where we need a diagnoses as soon as possible,” said Tim Mapes, spokesman for Shasta County’s Health and Human Services Agency.
Meanwhile, a Redding woman’s Facebook post is going viral because it raises questions about who can get tested in Shasta County.
The woman says the medical staff at Mercy Medical Center told her she likely has COVID-19 even though the hospital didn’t test her.
She went to the hospital with chest pain from having difficulty breathing. She also had a runny nose, cough and a fever. She went into the tent that Mercy has outside and was quarantined in a room.
A flu test came back negative and after getting an EKG and a number of blood draws, the woman said she was told that she likely has the virus.
The woman was told she couldn’t have the coronavirus test because of a test shortage and because she’s in her 20s. She was told to self-quarantine.
“I have been responsible and have quarantined for days,” the woman said. “So if anyone was wondering why Shasta County’s Covid 19 count is so low. It’s because the hospitals can’t and won’t test for it. I know everyone is thinking that the chance of contact here is low but it’s not. Please stay home!”
The woman says her post isn’t meant to draw attention to Mercy, “but to make everyone realize the more exposure you have to others, the more at risk you are. So do (what) you can to stay home and stay safe for our whole community.”
If symptomatic people seeking a test don’t already meet the county’s criteria — such as known exposure to someone who has the virus — hospital workers are encouraged in many cases to only use those limited tests on individuals who would require hospitalization if they were to test positive.
When local hospital workers determine they do need to test a patient, the test is run through the Shasta County Public Health lab, which has a limited number of testing supplies they are working to conserve.
“Our testing criteria is fairly restrictive,” said Kerri Schuette, Shasta County HHSA community relations program manager. “If folks are being sent home (from hospitals) to recover at home, they would likely not meet that criteria for the very most at-risk people who need to be hospitalized.”
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Mapes said aside from the public lab, the only other way to get tested for coronavirus is if one’s private health-care provider determines it necessary and orders a test through a private lab. He said the county’s public health lab can typically get results faster than private labs.
Mapes said the county’s lab has the capacity to run about 50 tests in a day. Although if county health officials were to do so, he said they wouldn’t be able to run as many the following day.
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Schuette said she encourages private health-care providers to work with local private labs to test those who “do not rise to that level of the most critically ill patients.”
“We understand the general public’s frustration with this,” health officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom said Monday at a press conference. “We’re kind of just in a tricky place where I think providers are trying to be judicious with our limited testing supplies until that frees up.”
Robert Folden, chief operating officer of Mercy Medical Center, speaks at a coronavirus press conference on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Photo: Matthew Brannon/Record Searchlight)
Robert Folden, chief operating officer at Mercy Medical Center, said clinicians have to make an educated judgment call about who to use a test on.
“(The logic for a hospital worker is) even if I could do the test, how am I going to treat this person? And if the treatment doesn’t change, do I need to do the test?” Folden said, stipulating that he is not a doctor. “In some of these cases, there isn’t a treatment. The treatment is, if you’re well enough, you’re going to go home and isolate. If you’re truly a sick patient that needs supportive therapy inside a hospital or inside an (intensive care unit), we’re going to provide that supportive treatment.”
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Health officials at Monday’s press conference were unable to say when exactly they expect test capacity to increase.
“If you have an illness that does not require medical attention, please stay home, get lots of rest, treat your symptoms and take the time to get better — that is what your doctor will say if you go into the office,” Schuette said.
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The county’s public health lab is running tests for those who are symptomatic and meet one of the following criteria:
- Individuals with known exposure to a presumptive positive or confirmed COVID-19 case
- Travelers who returned from areas with sustained community transmission within 14 days prior to symptom onset
- Patients who are hospitalized or severely ill, regardless of age or comorbidities (simultaneous presence of two chronic conditions)
- Individuals with pneumonia
- Health care workers, including emergency medical services (EMS) and other first responders
- Individuals residing in congregate living facilities (e.g. jails, shelters, long-term care facilities)
Record Searchlight reporter Mike Chapman contributed to this report.
Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.
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